Guilty Pleasures: 'Virtuosity'

By: Heather Seebach

Guilty Pleasures is a monthly column dedicated to the less-than-popular movies I love. I use the term "guilty pleasure" because it's a recognizable expression but, in truth, I do not feel guilty for liking these films. I shamelessly enjoy them, even if they are widely panned by critics and audiences.

This month's Guilty Pleasure is 1995's sci-fi actioner, Virtuosity. While just another forgettable starring role for Denzel Washington, this was the movie that launched Russell Crowe's acting career in America. Well, this and The Quick and the Dead (another 1995 movie I unabashedly enjoy). As the villain Sid 6.7, Crowe shows his campy side and runs away with the movie. At a meager 33% on RottenTomatoes and 5.4/10 on IMDb, this one qualifies as one of my "guilty pleasures."

If you've forgotten, Virtuosity stars Denzel as a Parker Barnes, a former police officer now serving a prison term for gunning down the serial killer who murdered his family. Because of his police experience, he is used in virtual reality training exercises against a digital psychopath named Sid 6.7 (Crowe). When a breakthrough in "nanotech synthetic organism" technology brings Sid into the real world, Parker is the only one who can stop him. 

This movie is from that period in the 90s when cyber-centric movies, such as Johnny Mneumonic, Strange Days, and Lawnmower Man, were popular. The latter was in fact directed by Brett Leonard, just like this one. These movies may be cheesy and full of dated references - it's hard to remember a time when people didn't instantly recognize ":)" as a smiley - but dammit I consistently enjoy them! These films have violence, sex, and a healthy balance of practical and as-needed CGI. I noticed all the digital blood in this film was only used in the virtual reality scenes (or for Sid's nano-blood), but everything else ("real" kills) were 100% practical. I miss that about the 90s.

In addition to Denzel and Russell, the film is full of character actors, including William Forsythe, Stephen Spinella, Louise Fletcher, William Fichtner and Kevin J. O'Connor. Oh, and you may be surprised where Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco shows up...(Hint: it will make you feel old).

Another one of my favorite things about Virtuosity is the plot. Yeah, maybe it's corny or far-fetched, but I think it was truly original at the time. I especially love the concept of this cybernetic menace constructed from hundreds of real serial killers. He exhibits each of their personalities in small ways, most prominently that of Matthew Grimes, the man who killed Barnes' loved ones. So it's a classic cat-and-mouse set in a unique futuristic world. Oh, and Sid can regenerate with glass. Yeah.

While I dig the story, the film itself is definitely stolen by Russell Crowe. The seemingly-serious Oscar winner completely hammed it up as the psychopath attention-whore Sid 6.7. Packing corny puns, flashy suits, and a maniacal laugh, Crowe seems to be having more fun here than in any of his other roles. And the sadistic glee Sid takes in tormenting Barnes is fun for us to watch:

 I won't overload you with videos, but some other great scenes are:

* Sid's conducting a symphony of screams in a nightclub. Look for porn-star-turned-thespian Traci Lords making a small appearance. Also, the Johnny Cab-esque bartender.

* Sid, in the prison van, taunting Parker about the death of his wife and kid. Love this line:

"You got too greedy. You leaped before you looked. You reached your whole arm in there and boom! BOOM! Hahaha! Look...just because I'm carrying around the joy of killing your family inside me...doesn't mean we can't be friends."

Anyone else dig Virtuosity? If so, tell me why and/or your favorite parts in the comments below!

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